Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Road-tripping...with your dog

I have been pretty lucky with Sage in that, from the start of our 'relationship', she has been happy to come along with me, wherever and however I was going.

But I've met a lot of dogs who are not so comfortable traveling by car - who get sick, or anxious or misbehave. I believe that almost all dogs can get used to almost any situation, as long as it has positive associations. Here are some tips I have been given by owners who've had a tough time getting their dogs on board:

  • Don't force your dog into the car. Set aside plenty of time to get your dog used to the space. You can try doing this on a couple of occasions, just sitting in the car, playing, grooming, a few treats. Even doing this for 5-10 minutes, a couple of times, will reassure your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of. In this way, the space stops being threatening and starts to be associated with positive activities

  • You can build this up by turning on the engine, but staying parked, so that your dog also gets used to some of the sounds and smells of the car, while still playing with them or stroking them

  • Don't rush into a long distance journey. For the first few times, try short, fun trips to the local dog park, or round to see a dog-loving friend. Somewhere fun, so that your dog will associate the car with pleasurable activities. If your dog is nervous of cars, definitely avoid the vets on the first one or two trips in the car 

  • Designate a space where your dog will always sit to travel. Whether that is in a cage in the back, on the back seat, or even down by the front passenger seat, get your dog into the routine of getting into the car and settling in the same, familiar spot. Lay a favourite blanket in the space, or bring a well-loved toy, so that the setting seems more like 'home'

  • Avoid feeding your dog before car travel, especially before long journeys. Limit the amount of water they drink too. But, be sure to bring food and water, so that your dog can drink little and often along the way, and eat as soon as you reach your destination (creating another positive association) 

  • Make sure there is plenty of air movement around the car. If your dog is likely to stick its head too far out of an open window, or possibly even make a bid for freedom, open more windows but just wide enough to cool down and let air in

  • Make lots of rest stops along the way. If there is nowhere suitable, make sure you stop every hour or so for a quick pee, a little water, and a moment of quiet. If possible, make a stop somewhere your dog can have a run around and stretch out their legs

  • If you dog is still sickly, having not eaten, with plenty of air movement and lots of rest stops, keep practising with shorter trips, don't give up, and put down an easily washable old sheet to protect your car 

Betty admiring the view from the car
Many people find travel carriers or cages are convenient, as they prevent  your dog from moving about, and function in the same way as a seatbelt - protecting your dog in case of an accident. TransK9 is a company based in the UK that produces a range of cages and cases for  protecting your dog on road trips.

You can also buy specially designed harnesses that attach to the seat belts in your car, so that your dog is safely strapped in, like these from Waggy Campers/Holiday Pet Products

The late Garby in her usual place for car travel

For boisterous dogs who won't settle while on the road, a good piece of advice from dog behaviourist/trainer Gwynne Lowther via Twitter : If your dog is stressed in the car, putting screens on windows or covering the crate has a calming effect just like it does with a bird!

Or you can fit a barrier to prevent your dogs jumping forwards and putting you all at risk, like these from US based company Pet Smart, which offer a wide range of barriers, from small ones that block the space between front seats, to full floor to roof permanent dividers. All are designed to allow interaction between dog and owner.

Sage, Poppy and Betty on a road trip
Finally, it goes without saying but I'm going to say it anyway - don't leave your dog unattended in a hot car. Even in the shade with the windows cracked, temperatures inside the car can get extremely high.

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